In March 2020, the UK experienced a drastic shift in consumption patterns, people flooded large corporate grocers such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s and ordered takeaway through third party delivery apps such as Deliveroo. Online purchases soared via Ocado, crashing their platform daily. Although much of the discourse focused on individual coping strategies and food shortages, it obscured the illusive manifestation of poverty.
As COVID has continued, it has become clear that our current food system is not democratic. Access is a privilege – standing in queues for hours, delivery surcharges, and limited goods on the shelves have disproportionately affected those who continue to work as the pandemic persists. Democratic action must ask if our food system is equitable – who has access?, Are the supply chains too long for individuals to access and each consciously?, Where are the local producers and are they provided access?, Is it overly bureaucratic – what are the barriers of entry for SMEs? To answer these questions a thoughtful policy, systems and environmental approach must be started.
Mapping the social and environmental costs of the current UK food system will lead to leverage points for community action, policy creation, and technological innovation. The social costs of our food system must be looked at holistically – via labour rights, income inequality, and the charitisation of food; additionally, the environmental costs should also be assessed – transport costs, food waste, and downstream health care costs due to a saturation of poor quality and unhealthy food.
A myriad of tools and organisations exist to help foster a democratic food system, such as the policy Mapping Tool from the Food Research Collaboration Centre as well as the charity Wrap which focuses on limiting food waste for restaurants. What we need now is a coherent approach to creating an equitable and democratic food system that not only incorporates True Cost Accounting as a metric of success, but focuses on accessibility and accountability. We must analyse and research our food system so that it may become synergistic with its social and environmental costs, from farm to fork.